I’m typing this on my phone in our cave suite; we received a free room upgrade a couple days ago. It’s larger, but the 5 am call to prayer is much easier to hear here, and Laurel can’t get back to sleep. The wifi signal is also nearly non-existent from this location. Oh well. On Monday we took a taxi to Kaymakli, one of several nearby underground cities. Before I came to Cappadocia, I thought that early Christians, hiding from and battling Muslims, built these underground cities. I was wrong. Although Christians did eventually live in these underground cities, the Hittites built them many centuries before Jesus’ birth. The one at Kaymakli goes eight stories underground, but only four levels have been excavated. As Laurel, Charlie, and I were walking down the stairs to the cave, a man approached us, offering us his tour-guide services. I declined, and we took a few steps into the busy (lotsa tourists!) labyrinth. He followed us and again offered his services. This time I readily accepted; it seemed everyone else had a personal or group guide. I don’t know how we would have found our way out or known anything about what we were seeing; there were no signs or pamphlets. There were so many large holes in the floor, now covered with grates, that we wondered how any young children survived down there millennia ago. Some of the holes had been carved out of this soft volcanic rock to store and preserve food and allow wine to ferment. Others had been fitted with spikes at the bottom of hidden cave openings to kill animals for food or enemies. Others were used as prisons for miscreants within the cave community. Laurel thought the prisoners’ lives must have been miserable since she guessed that they probably would not have been considered worthy of lighting/burning of oil.
It’s 7:13 am now, and I’m sitting on one of the hotel terraces listening to the morning noises – the barking and its echoing of many stray dogs, roosters crowing, birds chirping. I got up at 6:30 to do another load of laundry before we check out today. I tried last night but both washers were taken. Mehmet, who works in the office, saw me last night and reminded me that he never did get to play a concert with Laurel. He plays some kind of stringed instrument that’s similar to a lute, I think. So they’ll play today. Laurel was stressed last night, tuning and practicing. When we were at the airport hotel in Istanbul, the porter insisted Laurel play for him as soon as we got to our room. She quickly tuned it and played a little “Stairway.”
After Kaymakli, our taxi driver, Bakir, drove us to the Ihlara Valley where we ate lunch and then went on a hike in a canyon along a river. Bakir drove to the next town and waited for us. It’s a beautiful walk, popular with international tourists, where we could walk up long staircases on both sides of the river and see thousand-year-old Byzantine churches that had been carved into the rock. There are frescoes all over the ceilings and walls although most are very damaged by both natural and human causes. Nearly all the faces – of Jesus and the saints – had been destroyed by shepherd boys centuries ago, heeding the Muslim teaching to avoid graven images. There are loads of these churches on the 2-mile walk. There are signs in Turkish and English at each church explaining the architecture and estimating the date it was built. What we couldn’t figure out was why they needed so many churches. I’ll have to research that a bit more. We also don’t know where people lived who went to these churches. On Tuesday we went to the Göreme Open-Air Museum which is similar to what we saw in the Ihlara Valley – lotsa churches clustered together. Yesterday we hiked through the stunning Rose Valley. There were many points along the trail where the paths diverged, but only one trail was marked, so we assumed, correctly, that that was the trail we should take. A thunderstorm started while we hiked – at the top of the cliff with no shelter in sight – but we didn’t get struck. Yay! A couple Chinese teenage boys waved us down as we walked further down in the valley. They had gotten their small, rented ATV stuck between the cliff wall and a rock. We (mostly Laurel) helped free the vehicle, and they were very grateful. There don’t seem to be any decent maps of this area. As far as I can tell, some streets don’t have names; and no local maps that our hotel staff gave us have any distance markings on them and are not to scale. When we asked the Chinese boys if they knew how far it was to Çavusin where we hoped we were heading, they pulled out a lovely color map for us to look at; but it also had no detail on it. We made it to Çavusin – yay again! – and called our hotel to call a taxi to pick us up.
When we called two taxi companies from Ürgüp the other day, neither could understand what I was saying about where we were. Ürgüp is the largest town around, and there’s a town center with a taxi stand (but the taxis were parked and the drivers were no where in sight). I kept saying, “Ürgüp, taxi stand” and the name of the restaurant we were near. Neither man understood me or sent a taxi. Finally one of the drivers of the parked taxis (“Taksi” here – There’s no “x” in Turkish.) came out of somewhere and gave us a ride. We’ll leave our luggage in the lobby until the airport shuttle van comes at 6:15 pm to take us to Kayseri where we’ll board a plane to Izmir. We’ll spend the night at an airport hotel in Izmir and then go to Kusadasi an hour or so south of there where we’ll spend 2 1/2 weeks in an apartment near the Aegean Sea and the ruins of Ephesus.